The Sudden Rise of Larrikinism

As seen in the Letters to the Editor. 1871 – 1875.

In 1871, Larrikins rather suddenly appeared in Queensland. Dire tales of disorder on the streets of stately Melbourne had begun to appear in the Queensland press, causing pious folk to glance nervously at any seemingly under-employed young person who crossed their path. Surely they wouldn’t come here. Would they?

Larrikins, sporting the distinctive flared trousers, built-up heels and disordered cravats of their class.

Today, a larrikin is a person with a healthy disdain for authority in its more pompous forms, and who ususally displays a marked fondness for beer-related recreational activities. Their distant ancestors were similarly inclined, but took to assembling in gangs and committing public nuisances, ranging from general disrespect to violent crime.

Seemingly from nowhere, the predominantly young and disadvantaged emerged into the streets of Melbourne and Sydney, dressed in distinctive “flash” clothing, loudly mocking everyone they reasonably suspected of being respectable. Stones were thrown, obscenities were hurled, and the sleep of the just was murdered.

The first use of the word “larrikin” in Queensland newspapers occurred in August 1870, describing some onlookers to a crime in progress at Benalla in Victoria. It was then first used to reference behaviour occurring within our borders the following April, as an upstanding citizen under the nom de plum “A Sufferer,” described the appalling goings-on in Gympie.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE “GYMPIE TIMES.”  SIR, – Lately a number of little boys and half grown up youths have made it their business to meet together at certain parts of the main street to make insulting remarks respecting everyone that is passing by. These street-Arabs and ragamuffins, for they cannot be termed anything else, apparently find great enjoyment in loudly calling out the name or occupation of every male passer-by that may be known to them, accompanied with “adjectives” of the most disgusting kind.

This I think you will admit is anything but pleasant to the “unfortunates,” but when females are also treated in the same manner, as I am prepared to prove, this species of “larrikinism,” as it is termed in Melbourne, becomes an intolerable nuisance that ought at once to be done away with. In England it would soon be nipped in the bud by the proper authorities, and doubles if one of these promising specimens of the rising generation were to be made an example of – say, for using obscene language, the rest of his tribe would soon drop their little game. A SUFFERER.

While larrikinism in its more organised and criminal form would make its way to Queensland in the coming decades, the kind of behaviour described by the good citizens of the Colony  to the editors of our newspapers in the early years, was often little short of comical.

Parrot Liberators and Dangerous Dog Carts

SIR, – Despite the benefits of free education the unfortunate human reed known as the “Larrikin” seems to flourish exceedingly in Brisbane. These wretched little Arabs are generally the children of drunken parents, who if they do not virtually encourage their offspring in thieving, at least never check or punish them for it.

One of these little waifs a day or two ago crept on to the verandah of a house in Spring Hill where some rare and valuable parrots were kept, opened the cage doors and let them fly away; whether from spiteful mischief, or in hope of reward for trapping them, cannot be known, as the pattering of his bare feet only attracted attention in time to see him disappearing swiftly in the distance.

‘Street Arabs’ were everywhere, even in floodwaters.

I fear, too, that there are some grown up larrikins in Brisbane. Last Sunday night, long after dark, sundry dog-carts and buggies came driving smartly into town along the Breakfast Creek road with not a single lamp lighted among the whole crew of them. Such careless disregard proves either that lives and limbs must be very cheap in Brisbane, or else that lamps and lights must be very dear.

Another favourite amusement on a dark night is, for a spring van without lights to emerge suddenly at full trot from behind a carriage with refulgent reflectors, being totally invisible to the dazzled eyes of the victim, till he or she is knocked down by it. This is great fun for the driver, but surely there must be some remedy – some fine imposed by law for these games of hazard. – Yours, & c., HALBERD.

Letting Off Firecrackers

SIR, Are our police deaf and blind? I am led to ask the question by the increasing nuisance of our larrikins letting off fireworks. Night after night, groups of boys are soon assembled together with a light and indulging in the fun of letting off crackers and other fireworks. Considering the inflammable character of our buildings, and the really valuable stocks stored therein uncovered by insurance it is really too bad that our police neglect to take measures for the suppression of this nuisance. JONES

“Impure Streams of Colonial Blackguardism”

SIR, – Our Botanic Gardens are greatly appreciated as a delightful promenade where young and old may admire the beauties of our semi-tropical productions, and combine recreation and instruction at the same time, thanks to the unremitting care and skill of the curator, Mr. Hill. There is, however, springing up in the midst of all the beauty and perfume that is to be found there, a nuisance which is becoming intolerable to the frequenters of that portion of the gardens fronting the cricket ground, which is desirable should be nipped in the bud.

The Brisbane City Botanical Gardens today. The Larrikins have vanished, but Instagrammers and selfie-takers may pose a similar hazard to decent passers-by.

At this place, which is principally the resort of nursemaids with their charges, are to be found, particularly on Saturday afternoons, a number of youths who take up their place on the grass near to the seats between the gravel walks, and conduct themselves in a most disgraceful manner. Their conversation, turned on in a tone of voice sufficiently loud to be heard by any person passing along either of the walks, is coarse and filthy in the extreme, so that respectable people are glad to get out of their way as speedily as possible, and consequently are driven away from the seats placed there for the accommodation of the public.

This, however, is not the whole of the evil, the youngsters that are playing about in the neighbourhood, attracted by the noise and laughter of the youths referred to, are drinking in the impure streams of colonial blackguardism, at a place where of all others their too confiding parents doubtless imagine they will be free from such abominations. I am quite sure the matter only requires to be brought under Mr. Hill’s notice to be at once put a stop to, and hence this communication. – Yours, &c., PROMENADE

Climbing Trees in the Cemetery

Highly disrespectful, but hardly indecent.

Frightening the Horses and Insulting Pedestrians

TO THE EDITOR OF THE BRISBANE COURIER. SIR,-One of the most noted strongholds of the ” larrikin” tribe is in and about Kelvin Grove. They muster strongly on Sunday afternoons, both males and females, and squat on each side of the very narrow culverts which mark the approach to Normanby Bridge, and spend their time in insulting the foot passengers who go by and in trying to frighten the horses of those who ride past.

These wretched young savages appear never to have heard of the Vagrant Act, and of a month in gaol with a couple of floggings given in, or I am sure they would rather go to Sunday School than vent their little tempers thus on the public after a full dinner, if they only knew what the law prescribes for such thankless young sinners as they assuredly are. They eat to the full, and by way of grace after meat sally out to swear and utter obscene words, and annoy all who travel past them. Yours, &c., EYE-WITNESS.

So, imprison and whip them, or starve them at home?

Throwing Things at Men Playing Soldiers

By way of explanation, Australia, being then a Colony, had no national defence force of its own. In the 1860s, volunteer brigades of fellows who liked to march, drill and shoot targets assembled in the name of civil defence. And marching, drilling and shooting.

Throwing stones is very naughty, but the goings-on they were disrupting sound frightfully pompous.

Hanging Around the Post Office and Swearing

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TELEGRAPH. Sir, — We in this part of Brisbane should like very much to know if we are under police protection, as the larrikin element is getting unbearable up here. From about 8 to 12 at night they congregate about the dark parts of the street, and render the night hideous with their cat calls, obscene songs, and disgusting language. If spoken to by anyone they greet him with gross insults. They have made the Post Office pillar their particular rendezvous, so that women or girls are afraid to go near it in order to post letters as they are liable to meet with the foulest epithets.

There is a real possibility that someone in this photo of Queen Street in the 1870s was either a practicing larrikin, or was personally connected with a practicing larrikin. Note the apparent loafing near shop doorways.

Both for the sake of the, public and the residents’ in the neighbourhood this club requires to be broken up, and it is only the police who can do it. The older larrikins, from the ages of 17 to, 20, are training up a lot of young boys every night to follow the same courses they do themselves, and by all signs the youngsters will soon surpass their tutors. We are glad the Police Magistrate’ has taken them in hand, and it only requires a few of the ringleaders to be taken out of every club in order to keep the wretched element of larrikinism under. VESPERS Leichhardt-street.

The Systematic Torture of Anglicans

All Saints’ Anglican Church on Wickham Terrace is a lovely old building, restored with great care in the early 2000s. If you find yourself at the bus stop nearby, you can gaze at its beautiful stonework and stained glass, listen to the organist practice, or as I did on one occasion, see a funeral procession leave, complete with a solemn procession of pipers.

All Saints’ today. A tiny pocket of Old Brisbane, surrounded by skyscrapers and palm trees.  And no larrikins – the real estate’s too expensive.

In the 1870s, it suffered from the scourge of children who fidgeted, talked and pulled girls’ pigtails. They didn’t put anything in the collection plate, either. The torture went on for years, if the Letters pages were anything to go by. (I can’t condemn the ill-behaved children entirely – I used my Anglican confirmation classes to hone my skills at yawning with my mouth closed.)

SIR,—Why do the larrikins of Brisbane congregate outside the south-west door of All Saints’ Church, Wickham-terrace, on Sunday evenings during church time? Why do they then and there discuss in so loud a voice all and sundry weighty affairs of their own, which have, apparently, but little reference to, or bearing upon Church matters, judging from the strong sentences which fall from time to time upon the ears of the worshippers inside?

Why, oh, my larrikin, why so strident in thy tone? Why, oh why, do’st thou stroll in and out of church every ten minutes in so unsettled a fashion? Is not Australia a big country, and is there no room for thee to discuss “pegknife” and “toffee” elsewhere than at the church door during the soft summer hour of twilight even-song? Might I venture to suggest to thee the summit of Taylor’s Range or the breezy sands of Moreton Island, oh, my Bedouin. Why the church door, of all places, oh youth with the fearful and wonderfully constructed bluchers?

But, alas! I fear that the punching of heads, the abstraction of caps, the insertion of pins, the interchange of slang, would lose all their zest for thee, unless some respectable worshippers had to suffer at the same time; and, of a truth, it surely vexeth my soul to think that we shall never be rid of the greasy horror, the unmitigated nuisance of thee, oh! irrepressible, abominable, and unendurable waif of the city. Don’t you think so, Mr. Editor?—Yours, &c., E. B. L. B. L. BULWER.

With Bulwer sounding off, Dickens just had to get involved.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ‘TELEGRAPH.‘ Sir, — The Courier’s correspondent ‘Bulwer’ failed to notice one very serious aspect of the ‘larrikin’ question as it affects the service of All Saints’ Church on Sunday evenings. I have not myself observed the noise outside so much as a more crying evil inside, all evidently in full training to join the ‘dangerous classes’. Numbers of boys and girls crowd into the church a quarter of an hour before Service begins. They jostle and push, four and five of them at a time, into seats only meant to hold three; giggling, skylarking, pulling of hair and ribbons goes on freely, but they are too languid to stand up, even during the utterance of the creed itself; their behaviour is in short simply infamous, and the matter does not end here.

All Saints’ during the Larrikin Reign of Terror. Note the possible larrikins lurking near the fence. Chilling..

Numbers of respectable people who would contribute half-crowns and shillings to the offertory, come to the door before service begins, and seeing the church so apparently crammed in the back seats, turn away and leave the place! They lose the service, and the church (a ‘free seat’ one) loses one means of its support. This is the more vexing, as the he and she larrikins, invariably find the fun getting tame after a while, and many of them go out for good after about half an hour of it, – having in the meantime, kept more than double their number of respectable persons from coming to church at all, besides scandalizing all who are unlucky enough to sit near them, and setting a fearful example to all the children at hand. The rest of the ‘larrikin mob’ invariably make a stampede of it when the plate is about to come round. So no revenue ever comes from any of them, while a – great deal is lost, as I have shewn, through them. It is a serious matter in a church that depends on offertory contributions, and the only remedy is to make the larrikins all sit up at the top of the church, where all may see their low theatre gallery style of manners; but they would never fare this, and the result would be that the church, would be then rid, and well rid, of them altogether. Yours, &c., C. DICKENS.

Mr Pounds was all for banning the little rascals from the institution altogether.

TO the editor of the ‘Telegraph.‘ Sir, — This Sunday evening nuisance has now been transferred to the inside of the building, owing I suppose to the cold nights. The larrikins behave in a manner which would not, for a moment, be tolerated in any school room, public or private; and why then, should the house of God be marked by behaviour that would barely suit the gallery of the theatre, just be fore the curtain draws up for the pantomime?

The verger sits on one side of the church, and he cannot be in two places at once; and the larrikins carefully avoid his side of the building, and crowd to the other one. During prayers the sport is confined to the less noisy acts of laughing, talking, pinching, and pulling the hair of the girls in front; but when the organ begins to play, then the psalms, under cover of it, are shouted out in a loud burlesque voice, till a blow in the ribs from his next neighbour forces a sound between a roar and a gasp from the lips of the comic youth, which, coming in the middle of the song, elicits plentiful laughter from the young ladies in front. Why is not the remedy applied to every young person, if unaccompanied by a respect able adult – compelled to sit at the top of the church, where all can see them? The true larrikin will invariably leave the church when this unpalatable proposition is put before him. It is as infallible a test for the larrikin as salt is for the slug.

Mr Pounds would have had the larrikin children sit up here to expose them to the disapproval of the congregation. I suspect it would have just given the little dears a captive audience.

It would be a mercy to themselves if all these untaught brats of both sexes were kept out of the church altogether; for they don’t come to worship, they don’t contribute to the offertory, and they are, by being allowed to come to church to scoff, being deprived of the last little remnant of reverence or veneration that is left in them. If they be allowed to make sport of the church worship, what is there left in heaven or earth that they can be expected to look up to?

Let exclusion therefore be applied to teach them that there is yet something they do not understand and cannot be admitted to some thing real and actual, however mysterious to them, reverenced by their betters which they are very unfit to partake in until a change comes over them. What can the wretched waifs come to think of a matter they are allowed systematically to abuse and burlesque, except that there is ‘nothing in it.’

I was much amused by the reply of a Pharisaical churchwarden of All Saints when I once complained of this matter; he said that respectable people ought not to sit at the beak of the church, but I was unable to see that one part of the building was, or ought to be any less sacred than the other. Was it not all consecrated alike? Is there any selvage in a church, as in a piece of cloth? My reason for writing to you in place of the churchwardens is, that in the former case the larrikins would never know why they were taken to task; but at the risk of hurting the churchwardens’ feelings, I prefer to let the larrikins have the benefit of seeing themselves thus gibbeted and pilloried in print, in the hope that the moral mirror thus held up to them may give them a fright when they look in it, and do them some good at any rate, for I study the boys more than I do the men. — I am, Sir, Yours faithfully, JOHN POUNDS.

After this, the parishoners were either cleansed of the larrikin nuisance, or had learned to tolerate the ribbon pulling and rib-elbowing.

A Fate Worse Than Larrikins

The horror,

SEVERAL complaints have been made in the local papers lately about the increase of “larrikinism” in Brisbane. These complaints must either be gross exaggerations or the larrikins keep a good distance from this end of George-street. As an incontestable proof we may mention that, for the last two or three evenings, some misguided mortal has commenced to practise on the Scotch bagpipes close to this office, and has “hotched and blew with might and main” for an hour or so at a stretch without any larrikin sticking a penknife in the bag or molesting the player in the slightest degree. There cannot be a larrikin within sound of those horrible pipes, or the temptation to let the wind out of their stomach would be irresistible, and we know one person at least who would be disposed to deal leniently with the young vagabond who committed such a crime.

Exposing Their Youthful Weaknesses

(To the Editor of the Chronicle.) Sir, — It must be apparent to every impartial observer that the above offence is gaining ground and favour in- Maryborough, and I would like to suggest the expediency of swearing in a few special constables (in addition to our police force), in order to give a chance of surprising some of the guilty individuals in the act or commission.

Possible rural larrikin – leaning on things was an identifying factor.

The fact is to be regretted that a gang of larrikins are in the habit of daringly parading our principal streets during midnight hours, exposing their youthful weaknesses without the least regard to consequences; and I feel bound to say that the telling punishment, as now enacted, and in use in Melbourne, would be the most effectual remedy likewise here, and, at all events, promotive of peace and order in a respectable town.

Larrikinism is but a remove or two from bushranging, and. if great vigilance is not exercised, and severe punishment meted out, and that soon, the time will come when every householder must either take the law into his own hands, or quietly withdraw from a town which cannot afford him reasonable protection for person or property. Allow me, Sir, to solicit a little space in your issue, and oblige, Yours, &c., FLAGELLATOR.

Well, that’s a telling nom de plume. Still, things had reached a pretty pass when the shopkeepers of Warwick, deep in the Southern Darling Downs, had people standing outside their doors.

The Larrikin Goes West

(To the Editor of the Examiner and Times.)
Sir,-Allow me through your columns to call the attention of the police to the crowds of youths who assemble every Saturday night at the corners of the streets crossing Palmerin street. This has lately increased to such a height that it is now a positive nuisance. The passers up and down that street have frequently to listen to the most filthy language from these hobbledehoys, and if an unprotected female should pass them, their remarks are particularly coarse and unmistakably made for her hearing. Apart from this bad habit it is a great inconvenience to the public to have to step off the path to avoid a collision, and must be very annoying to the shopkeepers to have these congregations in front of their doors.

Warwick in the 1870s. A lot of respectable people, but one or two possible hobbledehoys lurk at the edges of the photo.

I need not here point out the evil that has attended Larrikinism in the southern colonies; that is or ought to be well known to the authorities. But I would state boldly that it is the duty of the police to put down anything like rude behaviour in the streets and the congregation of a lot of youths at street corners who don’t seem to have any other object than that of insulting people and assailing passers by with vulgar and obscene language. Trusting that this will have the effect of directing the attention of the police to the nuisance, I remain, Yours truly. TAXPAYER.

Larrikins had truly penetrated the entire Colony, infiltrating doorways, church pews, post office precincts and benches in the Botanical Gardens. What would the following years bring?


  • Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette (Qld. : 1868 – 1919), Wednesday 18 April 1871, Saturday 6 July 1872
  • Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947) Tuesday 6 October 1874
  • Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), Saturday 17 August 1872, page 3
  • Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1871-1878) Thursday 04 May 1871
  • Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947) Saturday 27 December 1873, page 2, Wednesday 4 March 1874, page 2
  • The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) Saturday 13 May 1871, Tuesday 01 August 1871, Monday 17 February 1873, Friday 5 December 1873, Thursday 26 February 1874, Tuesday 16 June 1874, page 3
  • Warwick Examiner and Times (Qld. : 1867 – 1919), Saturday 10 July 1875, page 2

Images: State Library of Queensland, Tripadvisor, Wikipedia, Anglican Parish of Brisbane.

A Transportation Procession

As imagined by the Windmill Reporter.

A suitable place for self-government? Or a return to convict transportation?

1850 was drawing to a close, and the population of Brisbane Town – estimated at some 2000 souls  – was contemplating how best to make a success of the settlement. That is, the part of the population that thought about such things. Most people were wondering where their next shilling, and/or drink was coming from. And when.

The economy was stalling, due to a shortage of affordable labour. Dr Lang had sent several shiploads of carefully selected, socially useful, sober Protestants to do a spot of Colony-building, but no-one knew quite what to do with them at first.

Her Majesty’s Government, not to be outdone, sent a couple of ships containing convict exiles to the Bay. The prospect of (very) cheap convict labour had squatters dancing for joy. As well as providing inexpensive work, the exiles kept the Police and Magistrates of the Colony fully occupied for years to come.

As the old convict-built public buildings fell into disrepair, and infrastructure was cried out for, it became clear that Moreton Bay was well and truly out of sight and mind to her administrative masters in Sydney.

The Convict Barracks, c 1830

Windmill was of the school of thought that considered the business of Moreton Bay would best be conducted in Moreton Bay. This attitude, however, was met with guffaws of disbelief in Sydney, and it would be a further nine years before Separation occurred.

To counter the belief that returning to transportation was a way of saving the settlement, Windmill conjured a public parade to welcome the transport ships….

7 December 1850.

The passing of your new Government Bill and the uproar that is kicked up about separation will account for my awakening from my lethargy. I had almost resolved not to address you again, for I found your readers generally either too testy to laugh at my inimitable style or too stupid to understand it. I find however that although a prophet has no honour in his own country, he may be appreciated elsewhere; and as a sensible and judicious Editor, writing as far off as a town in Africa, laments the disappearance of my reports from your paper I am somewhat consoled by Cape discrimination for Moreton Bay dullness.

Windmill’s vantage point (in later years)

Now concerning separation for Moreton Bay, I find that nearly all the patriotic inhabitants are determined to ask for prisoners as well as that boon, in order, I presume, to guard against the possibility of that district becoming too prosperous and respectable.

The best of the fun is to see this movement ardently joined in by some of the clap trap spouters on the other side last year: – persons who, as they then spoke in ignorance of their subject, now wheel around upon grounds as unsatisfactory. Their defection is only laughable.

Well then you all agree to have these prisoners. Allow me to congratulate you. You are laying the foundation of a widespread reputation from which I admit that your new colony will be likely to realise a great amount – shillings; and that is everything.

As the enthusiastic Port-Phillipians have celebrated their freedom by public rejoicings and processions, permit your humble reporter to suggest the propriety of a public procession here, on the occasion of Moreton Bay being formally declared a penal Colony. A programme expressive of the rise and progress of the movement might easily be framed, e.g.


(Sufferers by the Cessation of Transportation.)


(Hired at considerable expense, as a temptation.)


(Represented in a Series of Dissolving Views.)

A Dozen Disappointed Traders.


(Just Caught)


(Struggling with refractory Captives from Amoy, New Caledonia, and India.)


(Engraved on a Tablet of Brass, and supported by a figure attired as the GENIUS OF INVENTION, with a pen in one hand and a fee in the other.)

The Public Spirit of Moreton Bay.

(Represented by an enormous 0.)

A detachment of Light Pickpockets

(Handcuffed together.)


Floggers in Ordinary, two and two.

(Each bearing a new Cat-o’-nine-tails.)


(Mounted on a Bullock Dray, and prepared for Active Service.)

Vestals from Miss Coutts’s and other Asylums,

(Appropriately attired in White.)

A Battalion of Her Majesty’s 1st Heavy Ironed Gang,

(Surrounded by a Guard of Honour, with fixed Bayonets.)


(In the Costume of Gibbet-King-at-Arms and wearing the (hempen) Collar of his Order.)

Suits of Clothes belonging to Hanged Malefactors,

(Borne upon Poles, and garnished with greasy Halters.)



(Each Head surmounted by the fatal White Nightcap.)


(Carrying the Book of Instruction, (the Newgate Calendar), elegantly bound.)

After this you might bring in the School Children, practising on each other’s pockets; and the procession could be closed by



I think that a procession of this kind would tell well; and it would be sufficient for the purpose, as you would be likely to have a great many other public exhibitions shortly afterwards. By the way, though, I don’t know how you will like my introduction of GREEN, for you may perhaps think with me that Moreton Bay would then be entitled to a hangman of her own; however, you have the programme, and can follow it if you like.

More anon.

Saturday 7 December 1850.
(From our Windmill Reporter)



Alexander Green, a Dutch-born convict who had been transported in 1824 for shop-lifting, was the Government Executioner. His occupation prior to this was variously described as Circus Tumbler and Mountebank. By the age of 30, he was an alarming prospect – his hair was already white, his face pock-marked and bore a large scar from his nose to his ear. After being dismissed from the position of Constable in the 1820s, he took the job no-one else would do, and the consequences of it. He drank and was violent in his private life, and gradually brought drinking and volatility to his work.

He began to bungle hangings, prolonging the misery of the condemned, and eventually had to be admitted to the Lunatic Asylum, where he died after 23 years as an inmate. “In appearance this ancient executioner resembled George Cruikshank’s famous study of a miser. his cheeks were quite yellow, very thin and drawn, while his head was ornamented (appropriately enough) by a large white conical night-cap. At one time this man used to amuse himself by hanging a number of dolls all day, but he is now past entertaining himself even in this genial manner. Mr Green’s age is 86, and he looks about 500.” Freeman’s Journal, 18 August 1877. (The journal was incorrect – Green was 76 at the time. KB)


Angela Burdett-Coutts

Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts, 1814-1906, was an heiress to a great fortune who devoted her life to philanthropy. She became famous for many acts of charity, most famously founding a home for changing the lives of young women who had taken to a “life of immorality.” Hence Windmill’s impertinent reference to vestals. If Miss Coutts had heard it, I have no doubt she would have boxed his ears.


John Lynch was hanged at Berrima Gaol in 1842, following a career of crime – he was a convict, bushranger, thief and multiple murderer.

John Jenkins and Thomas Tattersdale were found guildty of murdering wealthy settler Dr Wardell, and were hanged in 1834.

Owen Molloy was found guilty of murdering John Leonard at Moreton Bay in 1849 and, prior to his execution had confessed to the murder of Robert Cox, for which William Fife was hanged the previous year.

John Knatchbull was found guilty of murdering Ellen Jamieson and executed in 1844, having previously escaped the gallows for two mutinies.

Cruikshank, George. Illustrations from Mornings at Bow Street and the Comic Almanac

The Infernal Vagabond of a Woman

In April 1840, a young convict servant to Mr Robert Dixon, a Surveyor at Moreton Bay, was sent to Sydney on the Cutter John. Unusually, her fare and rations were paid directly by Mr Dixon, rather than the Government. A year later, she would figure in a trial at Moreton Bay that arose from a bitter dispute between Owen Gorman, then Commandant of Moreton Bay, and Robert Dixon.

A convict named John Ford taunted Gorman about his “carryings-on” with “that infernal vagabond of a woman,” earning himself a summary trial adjudicated by Gorman himself, and 75 lashes. Within a year, Gorman would be stripped of his Magisterial powers, and Dixon would find himself removed from the public payroll.

The Woman

The infernal vagabond of a woman was Marcella Brown, who, at the time of the alleged carryings-on, twenty-four years old, 5 ft 3, with red hair, a fair complexion and grey eyes. Her arms were freckled from working in the sun, and she had a small diagonal scar over the inner corner of her left eyebrow. She could read and write, and just a couple of years earlier, she was a married woman with an infant daughter, living at King’s County.

Her life in Ireland ended when she was convicted at King’s County in 1837 for stealing money, and sentenced to be transported to Australia for 7 years. She sailed in the Diamond with 158 other convict Irish women, arriving in Sydney on the 29th of March 1838. It is unlikely that she ever saw her husband or daughter again. (1)

Just after Christmas 1838, still a prisoner of the Crown, she was found to be well and truly on the road to motherhood, and was put in the Female Factory at Parramatta, and demoted to “second class” prisoner status. Her infant son, named Henry, was born there on March 17, 1839 (2), with no father listed on the birth or christening records. Her first year in Australia had been a memorable one indeed.

The Parramatta Female Factory, where Marcella Brown served out her pregnancies

Whether baby Henry was conceived of a consensual relationship or was the result of a Government official or fellow convict exercising what he perceived to be his right, is lost to time. Marcella’s time as an assigned servant at Moreton Bay was marked by such relationships, as she came to the attention of the enlisted men there and, apparently, the Commandant.

On 10 January 1840, Marcella Brown, servant to Mr Dixon, was charged before Commandant Gorman with “Dishonest Conduct in having a bottle of wine in her possession and which she gave to a Soldier of the 80th Regiment on the 5th inst., she being a Prisoner of the Crown at the time, and having no means of honestly obtaining the said bottle of wine.”

It appeared from the evidence that Marcella had the freedom to go about the town, and to the Military Barracks, and indeed into the soldiers’ rooms. On the 5th, she left the room that Private Joseph McLean was working in, returning with a bottle of wine, which she gave to Private James Ratcliffe to take in. Another convict, Mary Bolger, joined the gathering, and became boisterously drunk, resulting in a charge of her own.

The real question, according to Lt Gorman, was where Marcella had obtained the wine. Marcella gave conflicting accounts – taking it from Mr Dixon’s kitchen, or having got it off the last ship to berth at Moreton Bay. She declined to clarify, and even an overnight remand for more evidence to be gathered did not help matters. She was convicted and sentenced to fourteen days’ solitary confinement on bread and water.

Four months later, Marcella was sent to Sydney by Mr Dixon. She was about six months pregnant and probably starting to show. A son, Joseph, was born on 22 July 1840, (3) and christened without a father’s name, at St John’s Parramatta. Who the father might have been is intriguing – the name Joseph was mentioned at her dishonesty trial – she had been in Joseph McLean’s rooms on the night of the drinking session, and may have had a relationship with him during her brief but turbulent Brisbane stay. Or the father may have been someone else entirely.

She had been “carrying on” with Lieutenant Gorman, according to convict John Ford, who taunted Owen Gorman about it in 1841, and threatened to report him to the Governor. Surveyor Dixon, for whom Ford was working, became involved in the contretemps that ensued.

For the men involved, the fallout from the alleged carrying on, and the dispute afterwards, continued for years. Marcella herself was granted a Ticket of Leave in April 1842, on the condition that she remain in the District of Queanbeyan in Central New South Wales. More than twice shy, she stayed out of trouble, living quietly and eventually passing away at the age of 65 in Sydney.

The Surveyor

Robert Dixon in later years.

Surveyor Robert Dixon arrived at Moreton Bay in 1839, whilst in the middle of a dispute with the Surveyor General, over promotion and payment (4). A highly capable surveyor, Dixon, not unlike his colleague Granville Stapylton, had a quarrelsome nature, and did not suffer officialdom gladly.

Dixon’s letters about his dispute with his department head flew back and forth to the Office of the Colonial Secretary, to the point where the Surveyor-General had to explain to Governor Sir George Gipps that he had not preferred charges against Dixon, it was merely a dispute over payment and promotion.

Relieved, Dixon turned his attention to the state of things at Moreton Bay. He did not like what he saw. The quality of articles supplied to him “shameful,” the forage and supplies “inadequate”, and the convicts assigned to the survey “untrained,” thus impeding the survey. There wasn’t enough tea, sugar or tobacco in the Commissariat, and one of his men, a certain George Clark, had “bad habits.” He needed awnings for his tent, another surveyor had lost a boat with provisions, he sought to hire private horses, and was upset by the “slop clothing, boots and duck clothing” supplied. (5)

Dixon married the suitably upper middle-class Margaret Silby at Moreton Bay in July 1839 (the happy event inspiring much official correspondence involving permissions, provisions and lodging), and employed a number of convicts as part of his surveying team, and domestically. One of his family’s servants was Marcella Brown. Another was John Ford.

Just as Dixon was settling in, Owen Gorman relieved Sydney Cotton as Commandant. For a brief time, the men seemed to cooperate, but it was not long before they decided that Moreton Bay wasn’t big for the both of them.

Gorman saw Dixon as a disruptive figure, Dixon saw Gorman as an obstructive figure. As the months went by, Dixon would have had the opportunity to observe, or at least hear gossip about, the activities of the military and male convicts around the convict and indigenous women at Moreton Bay (6). As relations with Gorman gradually broke down, letters again flew back and forth to the beleaguered Colonial Secretary throughout 1840 and early 1841.

Dixon travelled to Sydney without permission in February 1841, returning in time to be involved in the contretemps between John Ford and the Commandant. Gorman alleged that Dixon had obstructed his sentry. By May, Dixon had been removed from the Government payroll, having also annoyed the Surveyor-General by publishing his own map of Moreton Bay, compiled with Survey Department resources.

That seems to have been the last straw for Dixon, who declared war, at least in the epistolary sense. The Commandant was demanding that he be prevented from returning due to his “slanderous and insubordinate conduct.” Dixon decided to write to the Governor, telling His Excellency exactly what was going on at the Bay.

A lengthy investigation of his charges against Gorman struck difficulty with the issue of proof, and although it became clear to the Governor that some misconduct had occurred, it wasn’t enough to sack Gorman or get Dixon reinstated to the Survey Department.

When the convict settlement of Moreton Bay was closed, Dixon applied to lease some Government buildings, but his application was refused. Too many bridges had been burned. He went into various businesses, without any notable success, and died in Sydney in April 1858.

The Commandant

Owen Gorman was Commandant of Moreton Bay from July 1839 to May 1842. Born 1799 in King’s County Ireland, he enlisted as a private at the age of eighteen, and slowly rose through the ranks to Lieutenant of the 80th Leicestershire Regiment in 1833 – the only Commandant of Moreton Bay to do so entirely on merit. He did not see active combat.

He married Margaret Flannagan in Spanish Town, Jamaica in 1818, and they had four sons. His family was with him during his tenure at Moreton Bay.

Gorman was always going to be the last Commandant. When he took over from Cotton in 1839, the Convict Settlement was being prepared to transition to free settlement, and Gorman hoped to use a successful handover as leverage to a lucrative Government position (7). The last thing he needed was a scandal.

Gorman handled a number of the aspects of his position with integrity and aplomb. He worked with the former convict runaway, John Sterry Baker, to chart a new pathway over the ranges to the Darling Downs. He showed genuine leadership when the news of the murders of Assistant Surveyor Granville Stapylton and William Tuck reached Brisbane, personally leading a search party to find the site of the murders, and in so doing, discovering a badly injured survivor of the attack. He conducted the inquest into the circumstances of the murders, which provided history with the most thorough account of the murders to survive.

Owen Gorman, again in later years, sporting the whiskers of a respectable businessman in Armidale.

But the dispute with Robert Dixon brought his other activities to light, and highlighted the almost institutional ill-treatment of women convicts and indigenous women and girls that had been allowed to happen in a remote penal settlement with only the official correspondence with Sydney providing any oversight of its activities.

At first, the accusations made by Robert Dixon were treated by the Governor’s Office as the ramblings of a discontented former employee. Gradually though, the information given by witnesses showed that while no provable charges could be laid against him, there was enough to the stories to make it clear that Gorman’s behaviour had been “unguarded.”

Gorman saw out his commission as Commandant, but was stripped of his Magisterial powers in 1842. Dr Stephen Simpson was sent to the Bay to take over that part of Gorman’s duties, discovering irregularities in the record of the trial of John Ford in the process.

Owen Gorman resigned his commission in the Army in 1845, and moved to Armidale. His marriage ended, and Mrs Gorman was succeeded in his affections by Mary Miliken, some thirty years his junior. Gorman ran a newspaper and with Mary founded a second family that became popular and much-admired in Armidale. He passed away in October 1862. Ironically, his son John became a noted surveyor.

The Colonial Secretary

The Correspondence from the Colonial Secretary’s Office shows the developing tensions between the Commandant and the Surveyor, and the gradual realization that some of the charges made by Dixon against Gorman were not unfounded.


In a bundle of letters to Moreton Bay dated December 28 1840:
“… enclosing a letter from Asst Surveyor Dixon relative to his having applied for Rations on account of one of the men attached to his party … I am instructed by His Excellency the Governor to inform you that you acted very properly in respect to those Rations – and at the same time to request that you will express to Mr Dixon, His Excellency’s decided disapproval of the tone of two of his letters to you of the 30th of October.”

“Having submitted to the Governor your letter of the 14th ultimo, from which it appears that Mr Dixon the surveyor at Moreton Bay does not acknowledge the authority with which you are vested as Commandant. I am directed by His Excellency to request that on receipt of this letter, you will call for the attendance of Mr Dixon, and also of the other Principal Officers of the Settlement, and in their presence express to Mr Dixon the very great surprise with which His Excellency has received the accounts which you have transmitted of his conduct.”

That would have been a very interesting meeting indeed.


In February, Dixon travelled to Sydney. Upon Gorman’s query about this, the Colonial Secretary advised that the Surveyor-General had not given Dixon permission to quit his post at Moreton Bay, and that the Surveyor-General was “by no means pleased at his doing so.”
By April, Dixon was back in Brisbane Town, and on the evening of the 12th was involved in the contretemps between John Ford and the Commandant. Dixon travelled back to Sydney in July, and in August Gorman made an official request that he not be permitted to return.

The storm broke in November 1841. The Colonial Secretary directed that a copy of a letter from Robert Dixon, making “certain charges” (8) be forwarded to the Commandant.

“In transmitting these papers to you the Governor directs me to say that he feels it necessary to call on you for some reply to the charges herein contained, for His Excellency has not failed to perceive that they are founded mostly on hearsay, since they relate to matters in which direct evidence is seldom to be obtained.” (9)

In December, His Excellency was still reassuring Gorman, “If your personal demeanour, and usual conduct have been such as to befit your Station, you can, His Excellency apprehends, have little difficulty in rendering harmless the attacks which are contained in the statements appended to Dixon’s letter.” (10)


But a month later, things were bleak. While Gorman was not to be charged, His Excellency’s hitherto unwavering faith had been shaken. Officially.

“His Excellency considers you have exculpated yourself from the most serious charges and that no further investigation of them seems to him to be necessary. Although, however, His Excellency considers you to stand acquitted of these charges, he regrets to say, he cannot think you have altogether acquitted yourself in a manner to command the respect of the various persons residing at Moreton Bay; and although he feels bound to acquit you of any criminal intercourse with Convict or Aboriginal women, he cannot think that your conduct must at times in respect of them to have been very unguarded.” (11)

As Gorman digested this rebuke, Dixon continued to worry at his problems. In February, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, explaining why he had kept certain items from the Survey Department, asking for a Court hearing to explore the injustices done to him by the Department, Lieutenant Gorman at Moreton Bay, and the vexed matter of the unsanctioned survey map. However, he would, for compensation, be willing to return the Government items and the “insulting letters” about Gorman.

His Excellency wasn’t impressed by that approach, and explored with the Crown Solicitor the possibility of laying charges. Happily for all concerned, Major Mitchell, the Surveyor-General, obtained permission to purchase Dixon’s map, and by May, was happy to report the return of the surveying equipment. Dixon did not obtain reinstatement, however.

The end of the Moreton Bay Convict Settlement was marked with a final communique from the Colonial Secretary, who advised that the detachment of the 80th Regiment would be recalled. And, with faith in Gorman’s stewardship of the handover decidedly shaky,

“His Excellency has desired me to request that previous to leaving Moreton Bay, you will deliver over to Dr Simpson the Crown Commissioner of the District, all the papers, books, documents of any description in your charge, relating either to the Civil business of this Government, or to Convict Services, and also, all Buildings, Stores &c., which may be in your charge or care.” (12)

The Incident at Brisbane Town

Brisbane Town in 1840, featuring the river, where the insolence occurred.

John Ford (born 1800) had been sentenced at Gloucester Quarter Sessions to seven years’ transportation to Australia while still a teenager. After an eight-month voyage on the Atlas, arrived in Sydney on 05 February 1820. Ford completed his sentence in January 1826, and had a Certificate of Freedom issued. It didn’t last. In September 1826, he was convicted of Robbery at the Criminal Court in Sydney and sentenced to death. This was commuted to life at Moreton Bay in double irons, and in 1836, mitigated to 7 years. He was an old Moreton Bay hand of fourteen years when he was assigned to work for Surveyor Dixon.

Ford had survived Logan, Clunie, Fyans and Cotton as Commandants at Moreton Bay. Gorman clearly was another matter. Ford was loyal to Robert Dixon, and was rewarded with approval to work on the Survey rather than return to Sydney.

However on 12th April 1841, with Dixon on the outs and Ford’s colonial sentence expired, a trip to Sydney Town loomed on the horizon. Ford decided to go out with a bang.

As the Commandant boarded the Cutter John from a ferry, Ford called out, “Gorman, I will report you as soon as I get to Sydney to the Governor.” In case Gorman was in any doubt that he was being taunted in front of his men and the various convicts present, Ford called out again. “Lieutenant Gorman! Gorman, I will report you as soon as I reach Sydney for the carryings on that you had at Mr Dixon’s house with that infernal vagabond woman.”

This was too much for the Commandant. He called out for a Constable, but there wasn’t one handy. Gorman had the ferry recalled to the Cutter, so that he could deal with this personally. His sentry at the wharf, Robert Whitmore, was tasked with scaring up a Constable. The first person Whitmore saw was William Crabb, another convict in the employ of Robert Dixon. He asked Crabb to go for a Constable, but Crabb refused.

At that moment, Robert Dixon and “about eight of his men rushed down the (ferry) steps with great force.” Dixon ordered his men to get his boat, something that Whitmore considered to be “quite contrary” to his orders. Whitmore stood his ground, and called out to Gorman to confirm whether Mr Dixon must send for his boat. The answer was a decided “no.”

According to Whitmore, Dixon asserted that the soldier (and by extension the Commandant) “had no command over him or his boat, that he should have his boat where he thought it proper and he still insisted that his man servant go for his boat, and that I might fire away as far as he liked.”

The Military Barracks, Brisbane Town.

Whitmore made threats to run people through with a bayonet if they didn’t clear the wharf. Dixon asserted that the Commandant was a “cowardly scoundrel.” Things became, if not civilised, at least markedly calmer when the Commandant’s ferry, with another sentry and Ford in tow, drew in to the wharf.

Ford was taken to the Prisoners Barracks and given into custody. As the sentries, Whitmore and Turnbull, were taking the road back to the Soldiers Barracks, they met the Surveyor and two of his colleagues. Dixon wanted to know if Ford had seemed drunk, and was told that it wasn’t possible to tell from his appearance. He then asked the men if they knew what Ford said. They made no reply, and Dixon turned to leave, saying “It’s no use asking any of you soldiers.”

The following morning, Lieutenant Gorman tried Ford for “making threats and insolent language” to him, thus being the complainant and the adjudicator in the same matter. From evidence given at a later inquiry, it seems that the Commandant wrote the record of the hearing, rather than use his clerk, and did not read depositions to the hearing, or have the witnesses sign their evidence.

The two sentries gave their evidence of the events at the wharf, then Ford was given the opportunity to give his evidence. Ford stated that he had nothing to say, beyond what he would tell the Governor, and what he told Mr Dixon. He bravely called two witnesses in his defence.

The first witness was brief. It was Private Joseph McLean, 80th Regiment. “Did you ever see Lieutenant Gorman and Marcella Brown, who was servant to Mr Dixon in any private or concealed or criminal way together?” “No, I never did.”

The next witness was Mary Bolger, another female convict, who knew Marcella Brown, and had taken part in the January 1840 drinking session with her and the previous witness, Joseph McLean. She would go on to be Gorman’s servant.

Ford asked the same question to Mary Bolger, who replied, “Upon my oath, I never seen Lieutenant Gorman in any private or concealed or criminal way with Marcella Brown, nor I never heard a word of this kind from Marcella Brown.” Bolger added that she had seen Marcella on her last day at Moreton Bay, and that Brown had said in part, “Now, Mary, I am going. I may blame McLean and old Ford for the whole of it.” (The next sentence in the record is very faint and runs into the margin, unfortunately.)

Lieutenant Gorman found Ford guilty, and sentenced him to 100 lashes. (13)

Ford left Moreton Bay in chains in 1841. Dixon left Moreton Bay in 1841, unemployed and fighting for reinstatement. Gorman left Moreton Bay in 1842 with his Regiment, but a stain on his character. Mary Bolger left Moreton Bay in 1841, having lasted a only short time in the service of the Gorman family, who locked her in her room at night to stop her sneaking off to drink and misbehave. Mary found ways to get out. On Mary’s return to Sydney, she married a fellow-convict and together they ran a very interesting household, if a contemporary news report is to be believed. (14)

Marcella Brown had left Moreton Bay first, returning to the Female Factory to have the child conceived in Brisbane. Was she an infernal vagabond of a woman? It’s hard to know. Perhaps she was more attractive than some of her contemporaries, and received more attention as a result. Her description on the Convict Indents – red hair, fair, grey eyes – sounds quite comely. Poor Mary Bolger fared less well in the Indents. A few years older, she was described as freckled and ruddy-faced, with sandy hair, a front tooth missing, and with scars on her face and one arm.

Marcella was a young convict woman, and her life is recorded only in the documents retained by the Government. She had no biography, no discoveries to her name, not even a colourful newspaper article . She committed a crime back in Ireland, and forfeited her homeland and family. In a new country, aged only 22, she fell foul not of the law, but of men. She was probably no more an infernal vagabond than the men she encountered. 

(1.) I suspect Marcella Brown is the Marcella Croghan who married Richard Brown at Meath on 15 February 1836.
(2.) Reg 645/1839 V 1839645 23A
(3.) Reference #993953
(4.) In London in 1838, Dixon published an unauthorised map of the Colony, and was denied reinstatement for a time.
(5.) After a bizarre Google search for “duck clothing,” I am indebted to Britannica for advising that duck clothing was made of “a plain, durable, woven material, lighter than canvas.” The earlier search led me to believe that the Commissariat might have kindly provided such garments in order that ducks should be spared the indignity of waddling about the settlement in a state of nudity.
(6.) The treatment of convict women and indigenous women during the convict era at Moreton Bay is distressing. The Book of Trials contains accounts of teenage indigenous girls being abducted by and considered the property of convicts (who gave several of the girls gonorrhea in the process), and skirmishes with the local indigenous groups over the treatment of their women.
(7.) 28 December 1840.
(8.) The allegations had to do with, among other things, one of Gorman’s visits to the Bay islands with his son, and their actions towards indigenous women whilst there.
(9.) 28 November 1841.
(10.) 04 December 1841.
(11.) 19 January 1842.
(12.) 03 May 1842.
(13.) The penalty was discounted to 75, and Ford was sent to Sydney, where he was imprisoned, then assigned to a road gang. He was granted clemency on the petition of Andrew Petrie, Rev Handt of the German Station, Robert Dixon, and Dr Stephen Simpson.
(14.) Mary Bulger, the wife of a man named Wilson, was introduced to the notice of the Bench, for conduct decidedly the reverse to that which Lord Chesterfield lays down as the concomitant of well bred Society. It appeared that Mr. Wilson was a resident of that locality near the Windsor Toll Bar, in this town, which has acquired the name of St. Giles from the character and habits of the majority of its inhabitants.
Over the various denizens therein resident — he had acquired, from the fact of his being a “thorough good man,” in his having suffered more crosses for declensions from the square than any half-dozen men in the Colony – the regal appellation of “The King”—and his domicile, from its having two whole chairs and an unbroken stool, was styled “The Palace.”
At this abode, nightly Levees were held, the privilege of Entree to which, was granted to such only who had (or ought to have) been at Norfolk Island, passed the ordeal of in Iron Gang, or were Runaways, and was purchasable on treating the company to glasses all round, an event which had, in all probability, occurred on Sunday evening, as the prisoner in an elated buoyancy of spirit, meeting with one of the constables, attacked by tongue with expressions which decency forbids the publication of, and then made her heels save the capture of her body, by running to “The Palace,” on arrival at which, the affronted Constable found her protected by such a numerous body of blackguards, ready to do any thing for their Queen, that it was dangerous to interfere, and therefore had to wait until the next day to apprehend her.
Such was the constable’s version of the affair — to which her husband King Wilson, brought forward two of his subjects to prove quite the reverse, two individuals, who swore to hearing his wife’s conversation, which was only language of the most playful character — at a no less distance than one hundred yards but as the loose garments—quivering voices— unwashed faces — blood-shot eyes, and rats-tailed hair of the witnesses did not give a prepossessing appearance to their testimony, the Court was rather wavering, when his Majesty begged an honest Constable named Murphy might be examined, which request was at once granted and settled the case.
It is seldom that the Police are accused of being “too modest,” but this functionary was of that character that he had to be requested several times by the Court to repeat what he heard, before he could twist his mouth into the proper, lisping form to give these expressions forth, and when blushing like a maiden they were uttered, they were found to be of a far more filthy character than the evidence had deposed to. On which Mary was sent ten days to the cells to impress the necessity of a future Molli-fication of language. Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1845), Saturday 1 March 1845, page 2

Trial of Marcella Brown, 1840

Marcella Brown
Servant to Mr Dixon
Ship Diamond
Brisbane Town, 10th January 1840, charged with Dishonest Conduct in having a Bottle of Wine in her possession and which she gave to a Soldier of the 80th Regiment, on the 5th inst., she being a Prisoner of the Crown at the time, and having no means of honestly obtaining the said Bottle of Wine.
1st Evidence – Private James Ratcliffe, 80th Regiment, being duly sworn deposeth that on Sunday Evening last the 5th inst., e received a Bottle of Wine from the Prisoner, who requested him to bring it up to the Room which Private Joseph McLean, 80th Regiment, worked in.
2nd Evidence – Private Robert Whitmore of the 80th Regiment, being duly sworn deposeth that on Sunday Evening last the 5th inst., he was in the room in which Private McLean, 80th Regt., worked in the Barracks.
The Prisoner Marcella Brown now before the Court was there,; she went out and returned in a short time accompanied by Private Ratcliffe with a bottle of Wine, which she gave to them to drink, and which was drank accordingly.
Prisoner Marcella Brown is remanded until tomorrow morning for the purpose of obtaining further evidence as to the theft. Brisbane Town, 11th January 1840.
The Prisoner Marcella Brown being again before the Court, and no other Evidence appearing against hr, is called on to state anything she may have to urge in her defence.
She first states she got the Wine in her Master’s Kitchen, and secondly that she brought it there herself since she had a (indistinct) sine the last Ship was in when she obtained it with five Bottles of Wine more, and two Bottles of Run from the said Ship, but she declines calling on any Evidence to prove her statement.
Opinion – Guilty of Dishonest Conduct as set forth in the charge, and sentenced to be placed in Solitary confinement for a period of fourteen days in the Cells at Brisbane Town on bread and water. O Gorman.

Trials of Mary Bolger

Mary Bolger Brisbane Town, 11 January 1840
Prisoner of the Crown Charged with being drunk on Sunday 5th inst.
Ship: Whitby
Constable Francis Black being duly sworn deposeth that he saw Mary Bolger on Sunday evening last, drunk and tearing her clothes.
Defence – the Prisoner being called on to state anything she may have to urge in her defence, acknowledges the Crime, and states that she got a glass of Rum from Whitmore and had part of a bottle of Wine that Marcella Brown brought to the Room where they were, but that she cannot tell where Marcella Brown got the Wine. She believes it to have been brought from Mr Dixon’s house.
Guilty of the charge brought against her and sentenced to fourteen days Solitary Confinement on bread and water in the Cells of Brisbane Town. O. Gorman.

Mary Bolger Brisbane Town, 29 July 1841
Prisoner of the Crown Charged by Mr Wm Whyte with Drunkenness and Improper Conduct
Ship: Whitby

Wm Whyte being duly sworn states that o the evening of the 27th instant, it was reported to him that this prisoner was drunk and conducting herself in a highly disreputable manner with Francis Black per Sussex in a room where she was said to be in and in which he found the prisoner very drunk, and the aforesaid Francis Black with her. (Defendant; nothing to say.)
The Prisoner having been found Guilty of the Charge preferred against her is sentenced to ten days solitary confinement in the Cells on bread and water. O Gorman.
Prisoner of the Crown Mary Bolger, Ship Whitby, now an assigned servant to Mrs Gorman at Moreton Bay. Charged with disobedience of orders and improper conduct at Brisbane Town on the night of 29th August 1841.
1st Evidence – Lieutenant Owen Gorman, 80th Regiment, duly sworn deposeth: The Prisoner now before the Court is an assigned servant of Mrs Gorman, who was usually locked up at night in her room to prevent her from going abroad and who on the night of the 29th August last, found means to escape through the connivance of other servants. About 10 o’clock I found the door of her room was locked but the prisoner had escaped. I sent immediately for the Constables and they went in pursuit of her but before they returned, I found her sitting under a tree and as soon as she saw me she came up to me. This was nearly 11 at night. I immediately sent her off to confinement. Prisoner found guilty of disobedience of orders an sentenced to two months’ imprisonment. Francis W. Forbes, JP.


  • Australian Death Index, 1787-1985
  • Book of Trials Held at Moreton Bay, 1835-1842. Item ID 869682, Part 1. Queensland State Archives.
  • Chronological register of prisoners at Moreton Bay, Queensland State Archives, Item Representation ID 3649135
  • Cranfield, Louis R, ‘Dixon, Robert (1800-1858): Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966.
  • Cranfield, Louis R, ‘Early Commandants of Moreton Bay’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Volume 7, Issue 2. Pp 385-398. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 1964
  • Fisher, Rod (ed) – ‘Brisbane: The Aboriginal presence 1824-1860’, Brisbane History Group, Papers No. 11, 1992. Kelvin Grove, Queensland.
  • Fraser, Douglas Were, ‘Early Public Service in Queensland’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Volume 7, Issue 1: pp 48-71. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 1963.
  • Harrison, Dr Jennifer – ‘The Moreton Bay commandants and their families, 1824-1842. [Article presented to a History of Women in Queensland Seminar at the Commissariat Store on 13 August 2005],’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 2007-11, Volume 20 (4), pp 148-158.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary – Letters Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860, State Library of Queensland.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856. Moreton Bay: Letters from Colonial Secretary to Commandant, 1832-1853.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930.
  • New South Wales, Australia, St John’s Parramatta, Baptisms, 1790-1916
  • New South Wales, Australia, Tickets of Leave, 1810-1869.

Personal and Commercial.

A Tour of the Classifieds

The plaintive personal advertisements for missing friends mentioned in the previous post often sat cheek by jowl with truly bizarre advertising content – gossip and rabble-rousing, and a number of inscrutable items that would only be understood by your average colonial Victorian perusing the local organ of record.

The very personals.

For gossip, here’s a pre-Separation charmer.

If this should meet the eye of JAMES DUNWILL (or any person acquainted with him), who came to Port Adelaide in 1838 or 1839, his Wife is now living on the Darling Downs Moreton Bay District married to a man named FAIRCLOTH or MURPHY. She is married in her maiden name, ANN DAVID.[i]

I wonder if it met the eye of the unfortunate Mr Dunwill. And if it did, he probably wasn’t exactly keeping up his end of the marital contract, having been clearly out of contact with Mrs Dunwill for some time.

Many years later, the good citizens of Toowoomba were warned against a species of imported blackmailing Casanova music teacher – his identity is lost to time, but probably quite easy for contemporary readers to guess.

Caution! Caution! Caution!

The Public of Toowoomba are cautioned against a recent importation, who

“Quick with the tale and ready with the lie. The genial confidante and general spy,”

and under the pretence of teaching Operatic Singing and Music, has obtained admission into several respectable families, but only with the intention of setting wife against husband, husband against wife, and family against family, by the circulation of vile and villainous fabrications. The party in question, a friend of a notorious character in Sydney, were ousted from the late town they resided in for dastardly conduct of a similar character, and the public of Toowoomba are now cautioned to beware of them.[ii]

The literary cliche of the autocratic Victorian papa was, if the personal advertisements were anything to go by, a bitter reality for their poor, downtrodden daughters.


I HEREBY caution all parties against trusting, or in any way harbouring, my daughter, ELIZABETH SMITH, she having left her home without sufficient reason, and abandoned my house. THOMAS SMITH, George St. [iii]

The happy ideal of the Victorian family. The daughters are far too young to nick off on a steamer to Ipswich.

To Constables and Others.

£2 R E W A R D.-Whereas my daughter ELIZABETH SMITH, whom I have previously advertised, is known to have left Brisbane by the Premier steamer, for Ipswich this day, I order the above Reward to any one who will either bring her home, or place her in the custody of the police. THOMAS SMITH. George-street, Brisbane. February 15, 1860.  [iv]

Good grief, I’d run away, too. I only hope that her reunion with her not so fond papa was not too terrible. A girl could and did end up in Woogaroo Asylum (“hysterical”) or the Toowoomba Reformatory (“flighty”) for less.

Young Sarah Charlesworth ran away, but at least it was a concerned mother, not an outraged father, seeking her return.

SARAH ANNE CHARLESWORTH, aged 15, left her home, in Fortitude Valley, on the 27th of April, and is supposed to have gone towards Ipswich. Any information respecting the above will be most thankfully received by her Mother, ELIZA CHARLESWORTH, Boundary-street, Fortitude Valley. [v]

Wives who did not do the wifely thing were gossiped about (see Mrs Dunwill, above), or had the misfortune to be publicly cast out of society.

NOTICE. I hereby caution the public against giving credit to my wife, Catherine Cosgrove, on my account, she having left her home without cause or provocation. PATRICK COSGROVE, Rockhampton, September 1862.[vi]

Oh Mr Cosgrove, I doubt that anyone thought it was without cause or provocation.

Matters of Business

To Mr- Wm. Handcock SIR— I beg to apologise for having made use of insulting language to you on the 1st of February last. I was excited at the time or the language complained of would never have been used. I trust this will be a sufficient apology, as I sincerely regret what has passed. JOHN BOLAND. Drayton, Feb. 15, 1861. [vii]

If only Mr Handcock and Mr Boland had kept it civilised. (The Atlantic)

The mind boggles. What kind of insulting language did Boland use? Still, it’s better to apologise in the classifieds than face a slander trial.

£100 REWARD.-Whereas a certain SCRUB Slander was circulated in Sydney, on or about the 1st instant, to the effect “That we had stopped payment” and in consequence of which statement we have sustained a serious loss, the above Reward will be paid to any person giving such information as will lead to the identification of person of persons circulating the slander as before set out. HAYNES, BERTRAM & CO. [viii]

100 quid. The return of Elizabeth Smith to her fond papa was only worth £2. But business is business.

IF MR ANGUS MACKIE does not PAY his account at Rostella House, his Carpet Bag will be SOLD to liquidate the same, in fourteen days from this date. June 3rd. JANE COOK. [ix]

Don’t mess with the boarding-house keeper, Mr Mackie.


MR W.M. JOHNSON, late of the Prince Of Wales Hotel, has stated that I am INDEBTED to him to a large amount; I beg to state for the benefit of those interested, that Mr. Wm. Johnson is in my Debt. WM. DEAGON, Prince of Wales Hotel.[x]

The very idea.

Very Miscellaneous

NOTICE. PERSONS are requested to refrain from shooting within the enclosure of Messrs Smith and Burnet, as has been done frequently of late, it being private property. Such persons are liable to prosecution for trespass. Rockhampton, 12th August, 1868. [xi]

Rugged Colonial types were rather fond of discharging their firearms without regard to life, limb or property lines. This is one of many such advertisements.

IF NORTON or the DRAYMAN does not return the BOX and BARRELL, the police will arrest him. [xii]

I presume Norton and/or the Drayman knew they were the particular Norton and drayman referred to, and knew which box and barrel they had custody of, and from which person and property they acquired those items. It’s highly doubtful that anyone else knew what the heck the ad was about.


THE arrangements of the Society being now complete for the reception of Birds and Animals, donations of healthy specimens (hawks, opossums, and native cats excepted) will be thankfully received.

LEWIS A. BERNAYS, C. H. BARLEE,  Joint Hon Secretaries. Queensland Acclimatisation Office, Brisbane, March, 1864.[xiii]

Not wanted by the Acclimatisation Society. (National Geographic)

Ah, how wonderful! A special collection of birds and animals was in the process of being assembled. But keep your possums to yourselves, plebs. The Society opened its enclosure door to subscribers, and, possibly things did not go entirely to plan.   

Do not annoy the animals.

ENTIRE HORSE WANTED. Wanted, for the Collaroy Station, a FIRST-CLASS ENTIRE HORSE   , either a powerful Coaching Stallion, otherwise a strong Suffolk Punch, or Draught Horse. Apply to: THOMAS       McLAREN, Esq., Collaroy Station, or to W. REA & CO, Stock and Station Agents, Denham St. [xiv]

The terms used in this classified were probably perfectly understood by farmers of the 19th century persuasion, but it did sound rather like people had been offering Mr McLaren, Esq., parts of horses that were no use to him at all.

NOTICE. There will be a FREE and EASY held at the British Empire Hotel, THIS (Tuesday) EVENING. C. CUMMING, Proprietor.[xv] 

Well really Mr Cumming, what will people think?

And then there’s this, from 16 January 1861. Sadly, was not run again, explained or indeed, copied until countermanded.

I suspect local politics. And use of the word bum as a term to describe free-loaders, rather than the modern English and Australian usage, which is an affectionate and informal term to describe the human posterior.

[i] Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), Saturday 15 November 1851, page 3

[ii] The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld: 1858-1880),  Saturday 15 April 1865, p3.

[iii] Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), Saturday 4 February 1860, page 3

[iv] Moreton Bay Courier, Thursday 16 February 1860

[v] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 9 May 1865, page 1

[vi] Rockhampton Bulletin, Wednesday 24 September 1862.

[vii] Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1858 – 1880), Thursday 21 February 1861, page 3.

[viii] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 5 July 1864, page 1

[ix] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 5 July 1864, page 1

[x] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 5 July 1864, page 1

[xi] Rockhampton Bulletin, Wednesday 24 September 1862.

[xii] The Brisbane Courier, Saturday 1 August,1863.

[xiii] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 5 July 1864, page 1

[xiv] Rockhampton Bulletin, Wednesday 24 September 1862.

[xv] Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Tuesday 21 February 1865, page 1

If This Should Meet The Eye of …

Missing Friends Part 1.

Imagine farewelling a family member who was setting off to another country to make a new life. Now, imagine doing this without social media, the internet generally or phones to keep in touch with that person. Letters (if your family could read and write) were your only hope of hearing from them. Letters that could take three to six months to arrive by ship from the other side of the planet.

This dilemma faced thousands of families throughout the 19th century. From convicts hauled off to Australia and never heard from again, to families and young people taking advantage of assisted migration, their relatives at home were left wondering if they were still alive in that strange place.

The most reliable way to try and contact your colonial family members was the Missing Friends section of the newspapers. There were a couple of investigation agencies, and they assisted as best they could in an age when everything was accomplished slowly through diligent letter-writing.

Australia was such a vast place, and so poorly connected by transport that many Australian families were sending plaintive requests to the Missing Friends columns, asking that if this should meet the eye of their relative, please communicate with your anxious family.

This is a small selection of Missing Friends in Queensland. Some are solveable, even today, thanks to that wonderful resource, the internet. Others leave you wondering what became of the person and their family.


It started quite normally. Mr Jordan, a dentist, who had practiced in Brisbane and Ipswich, retired in late 1860, and another chap took over his practice.

“Mr JB Mackenzie in succeeding to Mr Jordan’s practice, begs to announce that, from his considerable practical experience as a Dentist, in Great Britain and he neighbouring colonies, he will be enabled to meet the requirements of all who may require his professional services.”[i]

Mr Mackenzie then took out a series of classified advertisements, announcing his services – an office on the corner of George and Elizabeth streets, Brisbane, and visits to Ipswich on the first Tuesday of every month.[ii]

A qualified, experienced man taking over a popular practice. But within two months, Mr JB Mackenzie had vanished, after what would seem to be a trifling skirmish in the classifieds with a steamer captain over his fare.

“To Mr Mackenzie, Surgeon Dentist, successor to Mr Jordan. – You are requested to call on board the Breadalbane, Steamer, and PAY your Fare, 8s.; also Steward’s Fee 7s. 6d., incurred on the 5th December. JAMES TWINE, Master, Breadalbane.”[iii]

Illustration of a steamer on the Bremer River, Courier Mail

JB Mackenzie responded in the classifieds, giving his side of the events.

“In consequence of an advertisement which appeared in Saturday’s issue of my being indebted to the Captain of the Breadalbane, I beg to explain. The Breadalbane was lying at the Basin at Ipswich. I was making some purchases, when, hearing the last bell, I hurried off, leaving my change (a sum sufficient to cover the expense involved).  Captain Twine promised to send and receive the same; he did not do so. Concluding he had done so, I paid no further attention to the matter, and am very much surprised at the step he has taken. JB Mackenzie.”[iv]

Perhaps it was the embarrassment of being labelled a fare-evader by a steamer captain, a professional accused of neglecting to pay his fare by someone of a lesser station in life. Named Twine. A professional reputation was something to protect. But perhaps it was a symptom of a much deeper problem, because Mr Mackenzie shut his doors and was not seen in Brisbane or Ipswich again.

A clue to the mystery came a month later in the New South Wales Police Gazette, a publication probably not accessible to the residents of Ipswich and Brisbane, who were wondering where that dentist fellow had gone so suddenly.

“SYDNEY. Found in Riley-street, about 1 pm of the 1st instant by Sergeant Harris, a small card-case, containing a number of cards addressed Mr JB Mackenzie, Surgeon Dentist and a pawn ticket, written in Hebrew, dated 31st January 1861, and signed Charles Aaron, Pawnbroker, Kent-street. Now lying at the D Division Station.”[v]

Mr JB Mackenzie had travelled to Sydney and pawned a possession, losing his card case in the process. Further professional embarrassment, if that was even a factor in his decision-making at that point. Perhaps the pledge was not claimed, as Mr Aaron is reported to have auctioned a gold chain, pledged on 31 January and unredeemed.[vi]

Meanwhile, in seemingly unrelated news around the time of the pawning, a poor man who worked at a wild animal show named Billings’ Menagerie, lost his life after a tiger mauled his arm off. It seems that his job was taken by a man who was rather over-educated for the position, but anxious to earn some money quickly.

The North Australian in July 1861 gave a brutal one-sentence update on Mackenzie’s whereabouts. It took a second look before I realised that he wasn’t being fed to the wild beasts….

“MISSING FRIENDS- Mr J H Mackenzie, who succeeded Mr Jordan in his profession as dentist, and mysteriously disappeared, is at present engaged at Billings’ Menagerie, Watson’s Bay, near Sydney, feeding the wild beasts.”[vii]

Mystery solved then. How the mighty were fallen.

Watson’s Bay, early 20th century. The bulding that had housed Billings’ Menagerie is just to the right of the large tree. (RobertsonHouseWeb)


This appeared at first to be a standard Missing Friend notice. Thomas Baillie was looking for his brother George. Mind you, Thomas had managed to establish himself as Australian landed gentry by mentioning the Station he had owned, and also the fact of a trip to England.

Brother George was encouraged to communicate his whereabouts, ‘unless comfortably situated,’ which suggested that Thomas did not seriously expect George to be anything of the sort.


“MR THOMAS BAILLIE, late of Polkemmet Station, colony of Victoria, having now returned from England, is anxious to hear from his brother GEORGE, supposed to be residing in Queensland.

“MR G BAILLIE is earnestly requested to communicate with his brother, either through Wm Bell & Co, Melbourne, or Mr Kemball, Brisbane, and unless comfortably situated he is entreated to return to his brother, who will give him a hearty reception.”[viii]

A further notice directly below gave an insight into just who the missing man was. And how comfortably situated brother Thomas was, to offer travelling expenses and funds upon arrival.

“A Reward of TWENTY POUNDS (20) will be given to any person affording information as to the present address of Mr George Frederick Augustus Baillie, or for satisfactory proof of his decease. It is supposed that Mr Baillie is now living in one of the Northern Districts of the Colony, and unless early intelligence is received of him, a description of his person will be advertised.

“All expenses of his conveyance to Melbourne, will, if required, be defrayed for him, and funds will be placed at his disposal on his arrival there.

“A packet of letters from England, addressed to Mr Baillie, has been forwarded to Brisbane. March 10th 1864.”

Tantalisingly, little of George Frederick Augustus Baillie, son of the late Sir William Baillie, Bart., Polkemmet, was recorded in Australia after his brother’s announcement. But he did survive his excursion to the Northern Districts, and in all likelihood took up the offer of travel expenses and funds at his disposal. Not to mention the hearty welcome.

The family seat, Polkemmet, early 20th century. (Landed Families of Britain)

George returned to the United Kingdom, and married Mary Gertrude Saddler in 1871 at Christmas Church, Clifton.[ix] She was a suitable match – the daughter of an Esq., and her family had ties to the Church. George Frederick Augustus Baillie died in Gloucester on 13 April 1882, aged 48. His brother Thomas was a prominent grazier and remained in the colonies, taking a seat on the Bench in Melbourne.

A Mystery Unsolved.

“HENRY HALLIDAY SMITH, from Liverpool. –When you come to your senses, write your brother. The loss of your mother’s portrait lies at your door.” [x]

How the modern reader would love to unravel this one. Unfortunately, the name Henry Halliday Smith did not recur in my searches, and the prospect of searching all of the gents named Henry Smith was simply too daunting.

I do hope that he came to his senses and wrote his brother. But I keep getting a mental picture of ”Whistler’s Mother,” which was probably nothing like that treasured and disputed keepsake.

[i] Moreton Bay Courier, 18 September 1860.

[ii] The North Australian, 09 November 1860.

[iii] Moreton Bay Courier, 15 December 1860.

[iv] Moreton Bay Courier, 18 December 1860.

[v] NSW Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime, Sydney, 04 February 1861.

[vi] Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 1861.

[vii] North Australian, 22 July 1861.

[viii] The Courier, 22 March 1864.

[ix] Belfast News-Letter, 22 February 1871.

[x] The Courier, 02 June 1863.


Some of Windmill’s finest writing is to be found in this wild flight of the imagination, published in the Moreton Bay Courier on April 14, 1849.

Our Windmill Reporter conjures up an imaginary journal of a recent arrival, detailing the New Chum’s journey to the Alpine region of the Northern Darling Downs. Windmill anticipates flying machines by nearly sixty years in the process.

The following manuscript scraps are stated to have been found on the road between Drayton and Ipswich…

But a fortnight has elapsed since I started to visit the New Country, yet during that time  have acquired the experience of years.

I was anxious to behold nature in its pristine and most beautiful form, and information led me to wend my way to the region of the Baramba and Dawson. The reality surpassed my expectations!

Darling Downs (

On leaving Craig Range (the highest part of the Darling Downs), the ascent to the Baramba country was fatiguing, from its excessive steepness; and, on arriving at one of the head stations, was forcibly reminded of the town of Quito, which is situated in the Andes, 9400 feet above the level of the sea.

It was under the brilliant sun of a summer’s afternoon that I first entered on the steppes of the Baramba, where the piercing chill of the cold, cutting sea breeze, penetrated me to the very marrow, and brought home to my conviction the immensity of the altitude to which I had attained.

The first view the New Chum enjoyed when surveying the countryside from the Alpine region (

The magnificence of the coup d’oeil which burst upon my enraptured vision beggars all description; on the one hand, many thousand feet below, lay the open plains of the Darling Downs, and beyond them the view was bounded by the blue outlines of Mount Abundance and the Grafton Range; on the other, the eye rested on the mountainous country of the Brisbane, which, from our great elevation, was but dimly visible; whilst, in the far distance, the horizon blended with the ever-sounding ocean.

The most peculiar feature that attracted my attention, while examining the mountains of the Brisbane through a “double Dolland,”was a highly finished building of the most Gothic architecture, which crowned the summit of one of their loftiest peaks. I understand that this building is used by the inhabitants of those parts as a receptacle for the wool of sheep, but its situation would have led me to suppose that it would have been more fit for the fur of the chamois.

Westbrook Station Woolshed, c 1877. Clearly a highly finished building of the most Gothic Architecture.

I was fortunate in meeting with friends well acquainted with the tableland of the Baramba, and, in making the following remarks, I have availed myself of the information derived from them. Sweet potatoes, maize and pumpkins will not grow in the Lapland of the South, the former only growing in a coast country; and it has been decided by my friends in that district that the cherimoya shall not flourish.

The herbage is peculiarly luxuriant, so much that one hundred and twenty-nine new varieties have been discovered, two of the most remarkable of which come under the denomination of the milky herb and emu grass. The condition of the emus that I saw during my residence in those parts was so good, that I am prepared to state that that country is essentially adapted for emus and kangaroos.

Emu grass (Folia)
Brigalow (Wikpedia)

There is no myall, but its place is abundantly supplied by brigalow, which is supposed to be of the same genus as myall by the inhabitants.

There is also an underwood that is extremely prolific, and which has been mistaken for salt bush; and I am assured, on good authority, that a vein of basket-salt has been discovered, which will prove valuable to the inhabitants for the purpose of curing meat. I venture to predict that, in the course of time, the Baramba will become the principal salting depot in Australia.

I am given to understand that various indications of copper and other minerals, in the shape of green clay, prevail extensively, and sulphate of brass is so abundant as actually to be visible on the countenances of many of the inhabitants. My observations led me to conclude that indications of tin were exceedingly rare when compared with those of brass.

Woolshed, Mount Abundance, c 1877 (John Oxley Library)

One peculiarity of this district is that sheep never die, and on one or two establishments the casualties amount to 1.968 per cent per annum. The water of the Baromba (sic) is so soft that one man has been known to wash 2,151 sheep in a day, the virgin purity of those fleeces rivalled in whiteness and brilliancy the dazzling summits of their snow-clad mountains.

*      *      *      *       

When I return to my home on Liverpool Plains, alas ! with what disgust shall I survey the undulating plains that surround me; while the recollections of my sojourning amid the wild declivities and placid lagoons of the Baramba will rush over my brain like a flourish of martial trumpets on the ear of him who listens to the sober melody of the mild Jews’ harp!

Presuming upon my fancied credulity, some persons to whom I communicated the valuable botanical discoveries above referred to, have endeavoured to persuade me that the emu grass and the milky herb have long been known as worthless weeds by the colonists, and that they are called by the names of pigweed and native indigo. Thus it must ever be. A scoffing and envious world would strip nature of her wonders, and deny the tribute of fame to the researches of the traveller.

The fate of Mandeville, of Bruce, and of the more recent discoverer of the aerial machine, has taught me to regard with contempt such impotent efforts to shake my faith in the things that I have seen.

Here the manuscript suddenly breaks off.

175 years ago, the Moreton Bay Courier was born

On Saturday 20 June 1846, the Moreton Bay Courier was published for the first time. Four years had passed since free settlers had been allowed in to the district, and some enterprising individuals decided that a local newspaper would be just the ticket for an outpost of New South Wales, some 500 miles from the seat of Government.

Courier Staff, 1880

Aside from a lengthy introductory leader, what was on the Courier’s mind for its first issue?

The First Journey to Ipswich by the “Experiment.”

In Moreton Bay in 1846, if you wanted to get from one place to another, your options were limited. Railways were nearly two decades away, limiting a traveller’s choices to traversing rough bush tracks by horse or on foot, or by boat if there was a navigable body of water connecting the locations. Freight travelled by boat, or by bullock team.

Ipswich, formerly the Limestone Station of convict years, had the advantage of being on a river that connected it with Brisbane and the Bay. The launch of the Steamer Experiment, which could convey passengers in comfort, as well as freight, was auspicious for the prosperity of both towns.

What a pity it ran aground. The unscheduled stop made the journey a two-day affair. Everyone concerned made the best if things, though.

THE “EXPERIMENT.” This steamer started from North Brisbane on her experimental trip to Ipswich on Wednesday morning last. Mr Pearce, the owner, and a select party on board, were warmly greeted as they passed up the river by a large concourse of spectators, who had assembled to witness her departure.

Owing to the imperfect knowledge of the person acting as pilot, respecting the river flats, she got aground near the crossing place at Woogaroo, and was detained until daylight the following morning, when she proceeded on her voyage and reached her destination at one o’clock.

The Ipswich folks were quite delighted at her appearance amongst them, and expressed their satisfaction by giving a hearty reception to Mr Pearce and all on board.

Mr Pearce intends to accommodate parties of pleasure desirous of visiting the Bay, and other favourite places, with the use of the steamer, should it be required for such a purpose.

There is no doubt that may persons will gladly avail themselves of the opportunity to take trips down the river during the summer season. She has excellent accommodations, consisting of gentlemen and ladies’ cabin, as well as a spacious steerage.

 Spacious steerage, eh? How comforting.

The New Governor.

New South Wales, the colony that Moreton Bay would belong to for another thirteen years, was about to receive its new Governor. Such was the journey from England to Australia that His Excellency departed in April, and was not expected until August.

The impending viceroy was one Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy KCG, KH, a direct descendant of none other than King Charles II and his most extravagant and controversial mistress, Barbara Villiers.

Sir Charles was replacing the distinctly unpopular Sir George Gipps, who, in one act, condemned generations of Brisbane residents to gridlocked misery by ordering the city streets to be narrower. After all, no-one was going to use those wretched streets, were they?

If only he had been in charge of our town planning…I’m sure the streets would be wide, sweeping boulevards.

Sir Charles was a capable administrator, and a much more conciliatory character. If only we’d waited for a Fitzroy government when considering our town planning.

True Crime.

The first ever crime report was published in the first issue, shocking the populace with the gritty details.

CHARGE OF THEFT. At the Police-office on Friday, a prisoner of the crown, named George Craig, was placed at the bar charged with stealing some articles of wearing apparel, the property of the mate of the steamer Tamar. The prisoner, who is one of the pilot’s boat crew, was remanded until the arrival of the prosecutor.


Steal wearing apparel and get a new outfit for free.

Cemetery Maintenance.

The Courier was shocked at the disregard Brisbanites showed the old Burial Ground at North Brisbane. At the time, it consisted of the grave of Granville Stapylton, the murdered surveyor, some of the soldiers stationed at the settlement and few of the local settlers who had met their Maker in recent years. Consensus seems to place this cemetery around Saul and Skew streets, probably at E E McCormick place.[i]

The convict burial ground was closer to the convict barracks, probably around Herschel Street and North Quay. There were also several graves on the riverbank at North Quay, overlooking South Brisbane. These were the graves of children of the soldiers, quite touchingly elaborate, and were placed to face out to the river. They are visible in one of the paintings of later years.

North Quay overlooking the river, showing graves of soldiers’

THE OLD BURIAL GROUND. Perhaps there is no position more unpalatable for a public writer to be placed in than in which it is his duty to censure the community with whom he makes his acquaintance for the first time. In addressing the inhabitants of Brisbane, through the columns of their local newspaper, it would be our wish as well as our interest to greet them with a flattering notice of their many good qualities – of their regard for, and attention to, the decencies of life.

In this dilemma there is only one course open to us, and we trust our readers will give us credit for the sincerity of motive in offering to their consideration a few remarks on the present disgraceful state of the old burial ground in North Brisbane.

The neatness of similar places in Europe, combining the idea of solitude and repose which such scenes inspire, with the care bestowed by affectionate surviving relatives on the last resting place of those once dear to them, is in painful contrast to the neglected state of the graves here.

There is not even a fence to restrain pigs and other animals from rooting around and roving over the dwellings of the dead. If something is not done shortly, we may chance to witness the remains of those interred exposed to public view. Such an occurrence, it is true, is not likely to happen; but its bare possibility should be an inducement to the inhabitants to take instant steps to secure the ground from the intrusion of quadrupeds. Surely the authorities might have saved the town the reproach that is now attached to it, if they had employed the government men for the purpose to which we have alluded. We shall be gratified to learn that our suggestions have been attended to, and that some kind of fence will shortly be placed round the spot.

And today?

175 years later. Well, it’s doubtful that Arthur Sydney Lyon, James Swan and William Wilkes would imagine the changes history has brought on the town, and its newspaper. The old broadsheet has become a tabloid, under the ownership of News Limited. It assumes of its readers an abiding fascination with rugby league (in particular the Brisbane Broncos), and no interest whatsoever in events beyond the State border, by keeping any world or national news tucked well away from the front pages. Those front pages are devoted to headlines about Anastacia Palaszczuk’s labour State Government, rugby league updates, and crime (currently the new inquest into the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub fire).

Say something nice. The masthead type is similar to the old Moreton Bay Courier, and that’s comforting in a changing world.

[i]The main cemetery was soon relocated to Hale Street, over the hill in the wilds of Paddington, where surely the growth of the town would never encroach. This became untenable a few decades later, and most of the departed were moved to Toowong  General Cemetery, with only a few memorial headstones remaining at Paddington. The land in Paddington, which may not have been as thoroughly cleared of graves as people had hoped, then became a rubbish dump, and later Lang Park. And later Suncorp Stadium. Local rugby league players reported that injuries received in the old Lang Park in the 1950s became infected, and often septic, which they attributed to the soil being partly tainted by rubbish and partly by the typhoid-ridden graves of the Victorian dead.


Their lot is not a happy one.

Just look what they have to wear.

Pity the modern police officers patrolling the Queen Street Mall on a hot summer’s day, lugging around their belts full of assorted law enforcement goodies – comms, tazers, pepper spray, truncheons and the like. All the better to be prepared for a turbulent populace.

At least the modern uniform is practical – dark blue overalls and solid walking boots, with light caps. There are some interesting variants, in particular the figure-hugging trousers/jodphurs inflicted on motorcycle police in the early 2000s. These seemed designed to be unforgiving, particularly for officers recently deployed from more sedentary pursuits.

But no misery could be equal to that experienced by the officers sworn to uphold the law in early Moreton Bay. Still under the control of administrative masters in temperate Sydney, and influenced strongly by policing garb in the Mother Country, the local plod had to maintain order whilst wearing layers of thick, scratchy wool.

The Windmill Reporter was, of course, right across this sartorial outrage, and gave his opinion in April 1849, under the headline “Horrible Torture.”


Recent events in the United Kingdom – paltry as they may be in themselves – have demonstrated the great value of a faithful and efficient police. I have heard of some rewards having been bestowed upon the immediate actors in those stirring scenes; and have rejoiced that, as the Battle of Waterloo was not without its accompanying rewards, the late microscopic battles have also gained laurels for the victorious peelers.

I was gradually approaching to a state of great admiration, even for the Moreton Bay branch of the body police; and had entertained serious thoughts of patronising them. But what a shock has been given to my sympathies! As my friend Snooks says, “ev’ry feeling has been shaken.” I have seen the new uniform for the Brisbane police; I have set it up, in my mind’s eye, on a subject; I fitted it in the imagination on the Chief Constable; I have fancied that I saw his glowing frontis leaning over a parapet of glazed leather, with his unexceptionable corpus encased in a Witney blanket coat, dyed blue; but all would not do. I found it impossible to believe that any man in such burlesque attire could be a hero. You know that my ideas are discursive, and therefore will not be astonished at my dreaming that I saw the chief starting off, in full twig, to execute a particular service.

This deeply uncomfortable gentleman was photographed a couple of decades after the outrage described so feelingly by Windmill. I suspect that the uniform had changed very little in the intervening years. (Police Museum)

I fancied his vain attempts to appear cool and composed, when he was perspiring from every pore by reason of being fully committed to the blanket attire. I saw him issue forth, with 14 lbs of wool trousers on his ambulators, and about twice that weight of coat reposing on his diffident shoulders, which sunk beneath the panoply. Panting – puffing – suffocating with the heat, he in vain strove to overtake the offender whom he sought. The wicked delinquent dodged him form corner to corner, often applying one hand to his nose, and turning the handle of an invisible coffee-mill with the other, as if in contempt of the law and its officer.

The evolution, I suppose, of the QPS uniform later in the 19th century. The officer second from right is still labouring under a great deal more in the jacket department than was necessary.

If the Chief would become absurd in such a dress, what effect would it be likely to have on anybody else? It would be monstrous! And then the hat! Oh, for words to paint my virtuous indignation  at that fearful hat! Why, not content with forming it of the coarsest and thickest felt, they have covered the top with glazed leather!! There is a greatcoat too, with half-a-dozen capes, that out-coachman the driver of an old Edinburgh mail!  All these things are to be worn at Moreton Bay, and the police must pay 3d. a day for the privilege! Here, in a place where the heat is sometimes nearly sufficient to roast a beef steak while an old woman is taking it home on a skewer, the unhappy constables are to be swathed  in flannel, and stiffed up like “Guy’s” on a 5th of November! An ordinance that offending constables might be steamed to death might receive my support, for it would possess an amusing novelty, but I cannot consent to the innocent being punished with the guilty. If this thing is persisted in, there will be a mutiny in the corps; they can’t stand it – I’ll defy them to do so. What a shame it is that no person will tell the police commissioner the difference in the latitudes of Moreton Bay and the Shetland Islands! If Sir John Franklin should found a colony on the North Pole, it is likely that the police will be compelled to wear the costume of Calcutta. In dangerous times like these, when there are some symptoms of a revolt at South Brisbane, it is ridiculous for the Government to be poling fun at the Police in this manner. They’ll fraternise, depend on it, if there should be a civil war on the other side.

Uniformed police at the Police Barracks. The photographer dutifully got all of the personnel and most of the buildings in shot, at the expense of detail, but it’s one of the few examples of uniformed police in photos from that era. c. 1880s.

Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 14 April 1849.


Before the Windmill, our intrepid reporter was stationed at Kangaroo Point, across the river from Old Brisbane Town.

His location did not provide him a great deal of material for his columns, but he took the opportunity to provide some fine comedy about his fruitless search for copy.

For historical context, the gruesome murder of Robert Cox at Kangaroo Point, forever associated with “The Mayne Inheritance” had taken place six months before the Courier’s scribe was posted there. A man – if you believe the Mayne book, the wrong man – had already gone to the gallows for that crime.

Campbell’s Boiling Down Works were giving Kangaroo Point life a distinctive flavour, although poor Campbell would soon go out of business, and set up a grocery store in Drayton.

James ‘Duramboi’ Davis ran a blacksmith shop at Kangaroo Point, where he lived with his formidable and unpredictable wife, Ann.

Kangaroo Point, about a decade after our reporter struggled for copy.


Kangaroo Point Intelligence.

Saturday 23 Sept 1848

(From our own Reporter.)

The telegraph established at Kangaroo Point, under the control of our own reporter, has furnished us with the following intelligence from that distant region. It will be seen that our first despatches are rather meagre; but any information respecting the manners and customs of the inhabitants must be interesting to our readers.

Monday, Sept. 18. – Nothing of importance this day. Two crows are sitting on the wall of Mr Campbell’s unfinished house, and seem to be conversing on the uncertainty of human intentions. Cannot hear their remarks at this distance.

An unreliable witness

Tuesday. – Boy hailed ferry-boat at daylight. Examined him on his arrival, and saw a slip of paper in his pocket, but had no opportunity of abstracting it. Waylaid him on is return, but he refused to answer my questions. Suppose him to have been sent on a secret mission of importance.

Wednesday. – Saw a strange dog this morning, but lost sight of him soon afterwards. Nothing further today.

Thursday. – Much excitement this morning in consequence of the arrival of a stranger, on horseback. I find it is the butcher’s lad, bearing a leg of mutton – specially ordered by one of the residents. Ferry-boat departed for North Brisbane at 2 pm, and returned immediately. Cargo – one old woman, one constable, and a bunch of turnips.

Friday. – Vulgar man passed me today, and put his hand to his nose. Nothing more to report.


(From our own Reporter.)

Saturday 30 Sep 1848

Our reporter has sent us the following epistle from his melancholy look-out at Kangaroo Point:

Mr Editor, – Shortly after the publication of my last despatches I was waited upon by a gentleman, who informed me that my report had given great offence to the settlers at this place; and that he would withdraw his patronage from your paper.

I looked rather blue at this, as I did not know how you might take it; so I replied that I was sorry for offending him; that I certainly had not said anything prejudicial to him or to any other person. In fact, my report amounted to nothing at all.

“Well, sir,” said he, “that’s the very thing I complain of. Why did you not report something sensible, instead of the balderdash contained in your despatches?”

I told him that he must be very well aware that there was nothing sensible to report on the subject. At this he sneered a good deal and said that I must be a very pretty reporter indeed if I couldn’t invent something. “Besides,” said he, “if there was nothing to say, couldn’t you be silent altogether?”

I saw that he was working himself into a rage, so I thought to mollify him by telling him that my only object was to inform the public that there was such a place as Kangaroo Point; but this only made him worse; he got as red as a turkey-cock, and swore I was a fool and the editor too.

Now, Sir, as I have only known you a short time, I didn’t venture to dispute the proposition as regarded yourself – but denied my own share in the charge; and told him that it was by my own choice that I was placed on this station, where I was removed from the hurry of business, and the temptations of the town. I added that this ought to convince him that I was no fool.

However, he wouldn’t listen to reason; but went away saying that “he’d not allow anybody to poke Borack at him.” What he meant by that I’m sure I don’t know.

Now, Sir, I want to know what I am to do, and if you wish me to demolish the telegraph, and return to town. – Your obedient servant.

*             *             *

(We cannot abandon the telegraph. Our reporter has been instructed to continue his labours, avoiding, as usual, everything of a personal or offensive character.)

Note: to poke borak at someone or something means to taunt or mock someone or something. (A 19th century expression, primarily used in Australia.)


(From our own Reporter.)

Saturday, October 28 1848

FRIDAY, OCT. 27. – For some days past I have been entirely idle. There was a rumour, indeed, that the settlers intended to petition the Queen to erect this place into a separate colony; but no public meeting has been called, up to this time.

The Brisbane Gaol, which did not open until 1850. The roof, or lack of one, was an ogoing complaint.

I have lately amused myself by sitting on the semaphore, and watching the progress of events in the distant capital. While so engaged this day, I noticed a circumstance so unusual, and of so exciting a character, that I thought it my duty to communicate the same to you immediately, by extraordinary telegraph. A man was at work at the new gaol! The event had such a powerful effect upon me that I immediately wrote the following lines on the crown of my hat, with a piece of chalk which I had previously abstracted from my landlord’s counter for private reasons : –

Faint and wearily a poor old toddler Climb’d up a ladder to the goal wall top;

Sighing drearly, for want of a nobbler -,

Scratching heavily his ancient crop. Copestone bestriding -Comfortable riding!-

Idly abiding, see his shoulders drop! –

Then how cosily the poor old toddler

Surveys dozily the gaol wall top.

Slowly hammering a spike, he lingers, Slyly gammoning he’s working hard; Faintly stammering “I’ve hurt my fingers,”

Drowsily he gazes on the dull gaol yard.

Striking, pausing -Somnolescence, causing –

Darkness pours in, as he’s nigh to drop -Then how merrily the poor old toddler

Goes down the ladder from the gaol wall top.

Notes: Toddler in this case referred to an elderly man and his style of walking, caused by a fondness for ‘ardent spirits’. The 19th century attitude to child labour was harsh, but infants were not sent to work on prison roofs. Possibly for practical, rather than sentimental, reasons. Nobbler in this case meant said ardent spirits. Gammoning – if something was gammon, it was false and/or foolish.


Saturday 11 November 1848

The great neglect of our reporter for some time past has led us to the conclusion that he has been bribed. It is humiliating to confess such a thing, but it is the only way in which his conduct can be accounted for. As the young man is really useful to us, and possesses considerable powers of observation we have not dismissed him, but have transferred his sphere of action to the Windmill at North Brisbane, where he will have an opportunity of overlooking the hole town, and of working his telegraph directly opposite to our office windows. 

And thus, the career of Windmill began.

William Charles Wilkes, or Windmill

The Fatal Effects of Intemperance.

It was 1847. The convict settlement was gone and free settlers had begun to come in to Brisbane Town. A few small houses and stores had begun to crop up on the main street – Queen Street – and at remote places like South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point. A few rough pubs and inns catered for the locals and visiting squatters. A local newspaper had started. And a detachment of soldiers from the 99th Regiment remained quartered at the Barracks.

Life must have been very dull for the young men at the Soldiers’ Barracks. While other detachments went to the turbulent frontier country of New Zealand, this lot were stuck in a small town with ticket of leave convicts, small business holders and passing shepherds.

More than 10 years after George Kirk’s death, and the town was still barely qualified for that description.

They were a long way from home. The mails from England took months. When not on duty, there wasn’t a lot to do. The fascinating Mrs Bailey lived in a red-curtained establishment with a surprisingly refined cellar at the end of George Street, but her attentions tended towards the officer class.

Alcohol consumption was the resort of privates of the 99th, and they took, in vast quantities, what they could get their hands on. And so, poor George Kirk lost his life to a very rough brew, on the picturesque Windmill Hill, overlooking the sleepy hamlet.


– An inquiry was held by the Police Magistrate on a view of the body of a private of the 99th Regiment, named George Kirk, who was found dead near the Windmill on Thursday morning. The circumstances attending the death of this unfortunate man are as follows:

Thomas Holmes, private 99th Regiment, deposed that at about half-past four o’clock on Wednesday while taking a walk he observed some of his comrades going up the Windmill Hill, and on reaching there he found them seated on the ground with a keg of spirits before them, which he was invited to partake of.

He remained there about an hour when the deceased George Kirk came up, sat down, and drank some of the spirits; he soon became drunk, and towards dark the only man who appeared to be sober was Bedford. The latter was then asked to assist the witness in getting the men to the Barracks. They tried to lift a man named Clark, and while doing so, the deceased called to Holmes, and on going to him found him lying on the grass very drunk, and without his forage cap. The cap was searched for, and not being able to find it, he returned, and found the deceased asleep. The witness and his companion tried to lift him, but were unable to do so, and they returned to the Barracks, leaving four men besides the deceased sleeping on the hill.

Our model is wearing the forage cap style of the 99th Regiment. Not a good idea to part company with one’s forage cap.

He did not report the circumstances to the Sergeant, fearing that the men would have a “down” upon him for telling they were drunk. He also thought when he got to the Barracks he should be able to persuade some of the men to fetch their comrades home, but it was too late. There was a civilian in company with the soldiers who had procured the spirits, but he left the hill before the witness and his comrade.

The rum was very strong, and several of the party drank it out of small tin pots. The deceased had one full can of raw spirits; he did not see him drink it, but he had often noticed him when drinking raw spirits, which had a great effect upon him, as he could not stand much. There was neither quarrelling nor fighting amongst the men, for they were too drunk to fight; some of them could not speak.

James Bedford, on being sworn, corroborated the evidence of the last witness, and stated that the deceased (George Kirk), Robert Clough, John Cavanagh and James Morgan were left on the ground.

Sketch of the Military Barracks

Corporal Byron stated that at about seven o’clock on Thursday morning he was ordered by the Colour-Sergeant to proceed with an escort in search of four men who were absent from the Barracks, the deceased being one of them. He went with his party to Windmill Hill, where he found two soldiers lying on the ground, and recognised them to be George Kirk and Robert Clough.

The former was dead, and his body cold. He appeared to have vomited a great deal. The latter was taken to the Hospital, apparently in a state of stupefaction from the effects of the liquor he had drunk on the previous evening. A post-mortem examination was held upon the body of the deceased subsequently by Dr Ballow, from which it was clearly ascertained that his death had been caused by excessive drinking. We hope and trust that this young man’s awful death will be a lesson to those who indulge in the pernicious practice of drinking raw spirits. Let them bear in mind the 20th chapter of Proverbs, “Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging; whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

The Moreton Bay Courier, Sat 17 April 1847, page 3.